Helicopter Stunt Risks in Film and Television


Since its inception, the film and TV industry has used high-stake stunts like car crashes, explosions and amazing chase scenes that leave the audience wanting more. As technology has introduced more cutting edge performances on screen, greater risks must be taken to fulfill the experience audiences expect and want more of. Behind these fantastic scenes is the hard work of crew members and stunt professionals who walk the constant line of daredevil and survival.

Stunt Helicopter RIsks
Film and television stunts are a risky business that only highly trained and well-qualified professionals should attempt, and can prove to be fatal. Helicopter accidents and crashes account for more fatal accidents on film sets than any other type of accident. Since 1980, 33 film and TV professionals have been killed in helicopter crashes around the world, nearly one person a year. Fourteen of these occurred in the U.S. and 15 more were from American companies shooting scenes abroad.

Hollywood Fatal Helicopter Crashes of the 1980s

The 1980s account for all but five out of the 31 fatal helicopter crashes. Two crashes filmed by the same production company in the Philippines claimed nine lives in just two years. The most famous Hollywood accident happened on July 23, 1982, resulting in the deaths of two children and actor Vic Morrow. A mistimed special effects explosion caused a low-flying helicopter to crash down on top of the actors during the filming of The Twilight Zone: The Movie. The high profile manslaughter trial ended with the acquittals of the director, producer, manager, special effects coordinator and helicopter pilot. The inappropriateness of having two children involved in the scene was called into questioning.

Recent Helicopter Crash Claims Three More Lives

Most recently in February of 2013, a cameraman, pilot and cast member were all killed in a helicopter crash during the filming of a reality TV show on Discovery. A Bell helicopter crashed into a canyon north of Los Angeles during a night shoot for a military-themed Discovery Channel reality TV series, killing cameraman Donald Rydstrom, pilot David Gibbs and cast member Michael Donatelli. The crash has prompted multiple lawsuits and is one of the most deadly on-set helicopter crashes since the 1980s.

Contributing Factors to On-set Helicopter Crashes

Many factors can contribute to helicopter accidents and special effects deaths, one of the most common causes of accidental deaths on a movie or TV set in Hollywood. Factors like poor weather conditions, dangerous stunt work, mistimed action scene, an inexperienced pilot, overloaded aircraft and many more situations can all prove fatal when well-planned action scenes go drastically wrong. These incidents can be overwhelming, complex and involve many different factors that will need to be investigated after a helicopter crash or aviation accident.

Established in 1993, Slack & Davis helicopter attorneys are known nationally and internationally for their extensive knowledge, expertise and compassion in representing victims of an airplane or helicopter crash. Ladd Sanger, a partner with Slack & Davis, adds specific insight as a licensed helicopter pilot. In an effort to proactively benefit other aviation clients, Slack & Davis also offers aviation services to existing and prospective aircraft owners. For more information, submit an inquiry or contact us at 877.279.9122.